I have doubts – as I should: lone geniuses with grand theories have a spotty track record. We get the occasional Einstein but we also get the Time Cube guy. I think I’m on to something but it’s not easy to tell from the inside. Let’s see what I’ve got so far.
I’m working on the hypothesis that religious beliefs have secular consequences – and that the metaphysical details of the beliefs matter for those consequences. The first part is straightforward: people tend to conform their behaviors to their religious beliefs and the behaviors influence their outcomes. When widely adopted, they influence the trajectories of communities, societies and even civilizations. As a trivial example, a group that believes in having lots of children tends to grow over time, while a group that comes to believe in having no children dies out in a generation.
The second part is trickier. As a rough sketch, theological details would have implications for doctrinal interpretation. Some of the doctrine would be relevant to moral beliefs, and those beliefs would affect behavior. The behavior, in turn, would have an impact on outcomes like family formation and birthrates, to continue with the fertility example. We observe that the secularized West does, in fact, have a fertility problem.
The hypothesis seems broadly consistent with the historical pattern but I haven’t made progress in demonstrating how doctrine would have been a deciding factor. It’s easy enough to point to the Reformation as a major destabilizing event, much harder to show how the causality would run through theology specifically. I do note that if theology indeed is a major component of the machinery of civilization, then sola scriptura amounts to handing monkey wrenches to amateurs. If doctrine matters, the proliferation of Protestant sects is a clear indication that something went wrong.
This task is consistent with my Christian faith. God’s truth is the perfect guide to live by. If our understanding of truth leads us astray, then we have misunderstood. If there is a way to test our beliefs against the world, we should welcome that: error will fall and truth will stand. Given how much error there is in the world, I think we all stand to benefit from such testing.